And their hopefully concern-relieving answers.
I’ve received a few questions about my study abroad experience and I’m going to try to answer them to the best of my ability~ FOR THE GREATER GOOD
1.) You weren’t there for a whole semester, right? Was it a special summer program kind of thing?
INDEED. This is a thing that may not apply to your particular experience— my school offers something called an Exploration Seminar, which takes place over 5 weeks in late August-early September. It’s worth 5 credits (we take 3 classes per quarter, at 5 credits each), and the credits apply to Fall quarter (so this fall quarter I’m physically attending only two classes, but still getting 15 credits worth). To my knowledge this isn’t something that many other schools do.
I have had friends on semester systems take full semesters abroad though (… in Ireland, but), and they enjoyed it very much. If you have any questions about the semester study abroad, I can forward them to her, if you like! It’s much more about getting into the swing of that country’s school system though, whereas mine was kind of like ~LET’S GO LIVE IN KOREA FOR FIVE WEEKS YAYYYY and some days we’ll even attend LECTURES OOOOOH~
2.) Does your school have a partnership with Kyunghee that allowed you to go?
Yes and no! We’re not one of Kyunghee’s ~official partners~ as far as I know, but we have connections there. Basically, we attended special lectures by Kyunghee professors. When we were at KAIST in Daejeon, we sat in on graduate-level courses. There were fifteen UW students in my program— it was specially designed to allow us to kind of float around, experiencing facets of Korea. I’M SORRY THIS IS VERY UNHELPFUL.
4.) Does one need to know a certain amount of Korean?
ABSOLUTELY NOT. You can’t really rely on everyone speaking English, though people do tend to speak a little. But all the street signs, subway navigation, etc. are in English. Knowing how to say please, hello, and thank you will take you ALL THE WAY. If you read Korean letters it’s also quite helpful, and only takes about an hour to learn at a rudimentary level if you do flashcards. But there were many people in my group who didn’t at all, and they had a great time.
More importantly than all that, I did not meet a single person who, if you were polite, wasn’t completely willing to help me get where I was going, buy whatever food I needed, etc. People are super nice. And this is something that I’ve encountered over and over again in Europe as well. I think the language/culture barrier was the most frightening thing for me before I went to Korea, but upon arriving there everything went incredibly smoothly. I wouldn’t let having a minimal knowledge of Korean dissuade anyone from going.
5.) And possibly most importantly: You seem to be a well traveled person, living in France etc. and I also get the impression that you’re pretty outgoing? Is it a stupid idea for a shy person to even consider exchange programs?
IT IS TRUE THAT I AM QUITE OUTGOING, HOWEVER! I am also kind of shy sometimes, and I think that if you’re shy, the joy you get out of study abroad will come from how comfortable you are with your shyness.
If spending time alone is something that you’re totally okay with, that is absolutely fine. As long as you’re smart about it, Korea is a very safe country. You can get plenty of enjoyment from wandering around Seoul alone, if that’s what you feel comfortable doing.
That being said, I have found making friends in a study abroad setting much easier than making friends in normal university classes. Foreign students generally find each other and clump together. Even if there are no students from your school on the trip, you will probably know the others from orientation or what have you. Abroad, everyone is kind of tetherless and alone and you basically become automatic friends with whoever is right there because you need to. It won’t be a situation where there’s a clique of people that is impossible to get into (though on all the trips I’ve been on there have tended to be a couple friends among the group)— everyone is sort of looking to be friends with whoever is around them, and if you just stick with the people that are in your group, you will never be lacking for friends.
For a shy person, at least in my experience, the hardest part of that is acknowledging that you have a right to be among that group, and to make sure to say things like “Hey, let me know what you’re doing later” so that people don’t forget to include you. Which can definitely be hard, but if you just keep in mind that EVERYONE IS AS ALONE AS YOU ARE it will hopefully get easier.
(also there will probably be one really assertive outgoing person who is really good at making plans and organizing people and has lots of ideas for what they want to do. Find this person. Stick with them.)
As for making friends with Korean students, IT IS A UNIVERSAL RULE THAT WHATEVER THE LOCALS OF A PLACE ARE LOVE FOREIGN STUDENTS. Everywhere I’ve been (… Europe and Korea…) people have wanted to ask me questions about America and show me stuff and talk to me and even just practice their English. And if you’re a really lonely foreigner, THAT CAN BE REALLY NICE BECAUSE YOU JUST WANT FRIENDS YOU’RE SO LONELY OH GODDDDDD.
TL;DR GO FOR IT
My number one piece of advice for traveling alone (as opposed to with family as a dependent) is whenever you get stressed about something, sit back and realize that apart from your dying in a horrible freak accident, nothing can go wrong. If you miss a flight, you can catch another one. If you get lost, you’re not going to be lost forever. If you order weird food in a restaurant by accident, RUN OUT THE DOOR no really it’ll be okay.
I realize this is a policy tooooooooooooootally founded in ridiculous optimism, but seriously, nothing can go wrong permanently. There is no one thing that you can do that will totally screw up your life. Rather, you’re going to make a bunch of great stories that you can brag about later and probably have an awesome time.
Also never do drugs in foreign countries because you will be arrested AND DIE